Spencer Cox picks his running mate in Utah’s race for governor — state Sen. Deidre Henderson

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, speaks after being announced as Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox's running mate in the campaign for governor, in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 19, 2020.

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox on Thursday announced that his running mate in Utah’s gubernatorial contest will be outgoing state Sen. Deidre Henderson.

“I think we really need people in leadership who know how to work well with others, who know how to bring stakeholders together, who know how to solve problems and get things done,” Henderson said in a video posted to Twitter. “That’s what I’ve learned to do in the Utah state Senate.”

Henderson, who announced Wednesday she would not be running for reelection to the Legislature, recently garnered attention for leading a bipartisan women’s walkout in the Senate over a bill that would’ve mandated an ultrasound before an abortion.

During the most recent legislative session, the Spanish Fork Republican also successfully sponsored legislation reducing the criminal penalty for polygamy to an infraction, effectively decriminalizing the practice of plural marriage among consenting adults.

“One of the things that most impresses me about Senator Henderson is her willingness to do the right thing, regardless of the consequences,” Cox said in the announcement video. “And that’s a true leader.”

Cox is the third candidate to name a running mate. Former Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright has tapped U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop. Former Gov. Jon Huntsman named Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi.

With Cox leading the state’s coronavirus response team, Henderson will become the face of the gubernatorial campaign for the time being.

“Obviously, the lieutenant governor has a really important job to do right now and can’t be distracted from that,” Henderson told reporters Thursday at the Utah Capitol, where she filed paperwork to join Cox’s ticket.

If elected, Henderson would be the state’s second female lieutenant governor, trailing only Olene Walker.

Henderson, who will have served eight years in the Legislature when her term expires, said she’d been planning to run again for her Senate post. Then, last weekend, Cox invited her to his farm in Fairview, where he asked her to consider becoming his running mate. After talking it over with her family, she accepted.

“It’s risky for me. I was up for reelection this year and felt pretty confident in getting reelected," she said. “I can say that I wouldn’t have given that up for just anybody. I do believe that Spencer is the right person for this job."

She said she met Cox about seven years ago, when both were freshmen lawmakers in the Legislature. In his announcement video, Cox said he was impressed by Henderson’s response to the 2018 Pole Creek fire — a disaster that led to the largest evacuation in state history — and has long known he wanted to pick her as his running mate.

Henderson was among the Republicans who ran for Congress after the resignation of then-Rep. Jason Chaffetz left a vacancy in the state’s federal delegation, but she failed to make it out of the Republican state Convention, where delegates favored far-right hopeful Chris Herrod, a former state lawmaker. Former Provo Mayor John Curtis then went on to win the primary and the U.S. House seat.

After her withdrawal from the Senate’s District 7 race on Wednesday, another Spanish Fork lawmaker, Rep. Mike McKell, filed to run for Henderson’s seat. Flor de Maria Sulbaran and Scott Brandon Neilson have also entered the contest to replace her.

Editor’s note: Jon Huntsman is the brother of Paul Huntsman, The Salt Lake Tribune’s owner and publisher.